Of Ruined Fondue And Unnecessary Disappointment

The following post is half a rant and half the instructions for those wishing to avoid the aforementioned disappointment.  And I will try to go gently on the rant bit, as I try to avoid those without a good cause.  Sadly, this is a good cause.

I make no secret of the fact that if I have to pick my one favorite celebrity chef for cookbook-buying (I don’t normally watch TV so I have no idea of how entertaining or useful their shows are, so I go by the reading and cooking quality of recipes myself), it’d be Nigella Lawson.  (If I had to pick two, the other would be Nigel Slater, and if I could have three, Emeril Lagasse deserves an honorable mention.  Just so you know.)  Now, as she herself says, her qualifications regarding food are not those of a chef, but rather of an eater – and, incidentally, also a cook.  Which is also fine by me.  I tend to find her recipes easy, good to eat, and generally have nothing but positive things to say of her.

Which makes last night’s occurrence all the more sad and disappointing.  The story is simple – I had some decent smooth-melting-type cheeses in the fridge which needed to be used, leftovers of a box of white wine, and a freshly-baked loaf of sourdough bread and I thought I’d make a lazy dinner of fondue.  Now, I’d not made fondue before, but being a decently good cook, I did not feel it should be too difficult if I got a good recipe and followed the instructions.  And because I like and trust Nigella’s cookbooks, I did not turn to my usual internet-scouring for tips, but opened up my Nigella Express book and found the fondue recipe I’d seen it on previous read-throughs.

Note, that I am not saying the book is bad in general – in fact, I’ve cooked out of it, and done so successfully, and the food was gorgeous as always.  But not this recipe.  I have followed it to the letter.  Unfortunately, the instructions were, simply put, wrong, and my cheese clumped despite my best efforts.  Again, I had at first thought the fault was mine, but a bit of research on the net (something I should have and would have done before ruining the cheese had I not trusted said cookbook so well) showed that there are several steps and an ingredient omitted in the recipe as it is written which actually have to do with cheese clumping prevention.

So, here are the steps you’d need to take in addition to the aforementioned recipe to make it workable:

  1. Add 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice to the white wine.  Most traditional fondue recipes have this, and one or two helpfully explain that it helps break the cheese down.  Why it is omitted from generally lemon-in-fridge-assuming Nigella book, I do not know.
  2. Preheat the wine.  Nigella’s recipe says to add wine and cheese to the pot and heat it.  No, no and no!  Preheat wine with the lemon juice, specifically until hot but not quite boiling to help melt the cheese as you later add it.
  3. Add cheese to hot wine in little batches, let it sit in hot wine for a while without stirring to sofen, and then gently and slowly stir in figure-8 to avoid clumping.  Add cheese as previous batch more or less melts.
  4. Use low heat once the wine is hot and while you add the cheese.  The recipe simply does not mention the heat setting and sadly, it really should have.
  5. There is also the additional bit where the cheese should ideally be at room temperature and not straight from the fridge, but I suspect if the previous 4 items are followed, this step could theoretically be skipped as cheese does not have a very high heat capacity (unlike meat).

So there you have it.  A recipe that would have been fantastic had it been actually complete.  That is to say, it still tasted good, it just was clumped and not pretty enough that I’d have served it to any visitors.  T and I ate it, and were happy, but it was a bit labor-intensive with the long cheese-gone-stringy bits in what should have been smoothly melted sauce.

Better luck next time, and I will make it with the addition of lemon juice and the above instructions and feel confident that it will work just fine.  And taste fine again, which is why I will be reworking it.

I am by no means disappointed in the food writer herself, nor in the book as a whole, but I think – shame on you, Nigella, you really could have easily done better.  And, in my opinion, should have.

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